Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dallas County truancy courts doing vast volume, serve as cash cow, lawuit alleged

"Texas processes more truancy cases through its court systems than all other states combined," according to a complaint (pdf) filed last week with the US Justice Department alleging over- and misuse of Dallas County truancy courts. According to the lawsuit, "The very high volume of juvenile cases heard by municipal and justice courts in Texas has led some to refer to them as the 'shadow juvenile justice system.'" "The volume of juvenile cases filed in municipal and justice courts dwarfs that of the state's juvenile courts."

The numbers back that assertion up: In FY 2012, there were 113,369 total cases filed against Texas students for failure to attend school. Almost none (455 total) were handled through traditional juvenile courts: 76,878 were filed in municipal or justice courts - 15% of those through municipal courts and the rest through county justices of the peace. By contrast, 36,036 truancy cases were filed in four Dallas County truancy courts during the same year. That's an enormous number. Much larger Harris County saw just 12,723 truancy cases filed in FY 2012.

One element I hadn't understood is the extent to which truancy cases have been automated, at least in Big D. There are four school districts in Dallas County and in each of them, "Cases are 'e-filed' by schools with students' attendance records triggering a system that electronically 'pushes' cases to the courts once they have reached the designated filing date - leaving probable cause determination to a computer," the complaint alleges. What's more, alleged the complaint, "Children are routinely criminalized for behavior as innocuous as being tardy to class." And once a youngster has racked up a bunch of truancy tickets, "Youth may be jailed once they turn 17 if they have not paid their fines and costs in full."

Dallas County has full-time truancy courts funded entirely from fines and fees from defendants - in other words, they operate on an eat-what-you-kill basis that gives them an incentive to maximize truancy cases, or at least ensure their numbers don't decline so that revenues remain steady. That creates perverse incentives, alleged the lawsuit, and IMO it's hard to disagree.

For those interested in more details (and Grits found it a fascinating read), see the 59-page civil complaint (pdf) filed by Texas Appleseed , Disability Rights Texas and the National Center for Youth Law. This should be interesting litigation: Lots of important, long-neglected issues are being raised that one seldom sees publicly acknowledged, much less comprehensively vetted.

Via Think Progress.


Anonymous said...

Many counties, like Montgomery, routinely jail the parents of children who fail to attend classes. This Nazi-like tactic appears to hurt the poor disproportionately as many of the parents jailed there are single mothers who work outside the home and are not aware their children came home after pretending to leave for school.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if kids would bother to show up to class there'd be no need for truancy courts.

Anonymous said...

This may come as a surprise but municipal courts have learned to make money off juveniles for way more than truancy. They have basically learned that short of murder they can reduce down every charge to a fineable offense. If the juveniles don't pay there is a warrant for their arrest when they turn 17. No regulation of how the money collected is spent, not due process, not rules/programs/instruction to deter just the "pay me your money program." This happens in almost every county under the name of some municipal or jp court program name. Why else do you think there is such a discrepancy between juvenile probation department numbers and juvenile arrest numbers.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@8:13, maybe if the schools were better, more kids would show up. If you want kids to attend, don't put out such a sorry product, especially for the non-college bound, and stop with all this police state nonsense. The Supreme Court has said kids have no rights in school and now they're all jammed with cops writing BS tickets for every little garbage infraction. Why would you go somewhere every day where 1) the moment you enter you give up your civil liberties and 2) the educational product is mediocre at best and there's better instruction on YouTube? Really it's a wonder anyone would choose to show up at all without the law forcing them.

Anonymous said...

The schools are getting a chunk of the profits too, right? If the cash flow is cut off the problem will probably right itself. Which is truly disgusting.

Anonymous said...

Grits, you are exactly correct. I work at a title I school and see what is going on. There is better instruction on You Tube. Kids show up beacuse they have to. And that is the pity of it!

Susan Hays said...

I (nerdy appellate lawyer) once represented a cousin who was criminally charged in DISD for disorderly conduct for (allegedly!) saying the F word in school. (Whatever happened to detention hall?) I did some research, and made an argument to the JP (whom I knew well through politics) that the First Amended protected the speech in question against criminal charge backed up by lots of Texas case law. The response from the court to my well-supported legal argument:
"You can pay $140 now, or $175 later."
We paid.

Anonymous said...

Debtor's prison is a reality for both young and old.

Don't go to school get fined in a kangaroo court and you go to jail for failure to pay. Much like the Dallas Tool Road Authority.

No oversight, NTTA board decide what the fees will be, manipulate the payment process then use the state legislature to enforce their abuse.

rodsmith said...


"The response from the court to my well-supported legal argument:
"You can pay $140 now, or $175 later."

Your nicer than i am susan!

I'd have one upped the judge. With

"how about this judge. Let's do a real crime. We're going to beat $175 dollars of shit out of a two-faced sack of shit judge!"

Guess which one i'm thinking of!

Anonymous said...

If this complaint actually materializes into a lawsuit, what is the likelihood of a class action lawsuit lining up every county in Texas for this same abuse?